Is it good to be sophisticated?

So I’m sitting in my little corner with a slab of prime, hand fed, well aged porterhouse that’s been simply garnished with a little sea salt and grilled to a loving medium rare served with a glass of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1987 (Reidel stemware obviously). Total cost: $300. Across the table from me, sits devilsknow with a piece of select grade sirloin, grilled to well done and doused in A1 steak sauce, served with a big plastic cup full of MD20/20. Total cost: $10

Now, I know I’m certainly absurdly happy with the meal that I’m eating. But it appears that devilsknow is pretty happy with his meal too. In fact, I offer him a taste of my steak and a sip of my wine and he eats it politely but, he thinks he would much rather have what he’s having thankyewverymuch.

But my question is, am I happier than him? Do I derive more pleasure from my sophisticated meal than his unsophisticated one? And do I derive 30 times more pleasure from it? Is being sophisticated the ability to appreciate good foods or merely losing the ability to appreciate bad food?

De gustibus, they say, you’re a fool if you’re disputandeming. What if you’re only deriving equal pleasure from your steak as he’s deriving from his–that doesn’t mean that you’d derive equal pleasure from his steak as he’s deriving from his.

I’m a snob about some things, especially beer. But there are some very fancy, very well-regarded beers (especially Belgian ales) that I can’t stand.

The way I see it, sophistication in a particular genre of food entails knowing that food so well that you can detect all sorts of subtleties to the flavor. That’s fine if it floats your boat; it’s neither better nor worse than the person who just likes some ketchup on her steak, thanks. Eat what you like, let others eat what they like.


Yes, but what that means is that sophistication isn’t a blessing, it’s a curse. I can no longer eat among mortal men. Instead, I must deplete my life savings in order to buy exotic and expensive ingredients purely in order to experience what devilsknow does from the mundane. Why would I wish such a thing on myself? Better to remain deliberately ignorant and happy.

The eminent sociologist TVeblen (no, not the Mod who took his name) coined a beautifully descriptive term: “conspicuous consumption”. Put simply, one might well develop a palate which is able to discriminate between good wine/steak and expensive wine/steak, with a small associated bump up in the pleasure derived therefrom. But he suggested that the real reason people spent a fortune on that expensive wine and steak is to demonstrate, if only to themselves, that they could: a kind of peacock-like display of the resources they have at their disposal, be that money, time or social contacts in the ‘cliquey’ nature of things like going to the opera.

So, you have a labour of love. You must spend your fortune on your meal trying to convince your fellows that you can spend a fortune on a simple meal. Good luck!

A doper should fight against ignorance not deliberately promote it. :rolleyes:

I don’t follow this. devilsknow might spend his money on a reallly expensive computer for gaming, and be more familiar with frame rates and polygon counts and whatnot, whereas you’re happy with the occasional game of Zuma. Is he more sophisticated than you, and if so, does it matter?

Different people like to focus on different things in life, and they derive pleasure from different sources. I don’t see anything innately better or worse about deriving pleasure from expensive sources.


Because spending money on food leaves less money for other things. It means I have to scrimp and sacrifice and make do and work my knuckles to the bone to earn enough. devilsknow, on the other hand is completely unsophisticated about everything which means he’s completely and utterly content with the cheapest of anything. This means he can relax and not have to worry about cash and still live the good life.

Shalmanese is right.
My way out of this is that I’m a snob, *but only when status isn’t a factor. * I can make a big deal about having made the perfect homemade blackberry jam, here have a taste, and having found the perfect potato, from a local farmer, and no, I won’t give you his number.

On the other hand, I refuse to even notice the difference between wine A and wine B, or car A and car B.

This won’t win me status points, but up untill now I have been able to not care about that, while thinking myself secretly a lot more sophisticated and subtle then all those snobs getting all excited about old grapejuice and virtually indentical machines that, no matter how fast they accelerate, all have to adhere to the speedlimit anyway.

Why is that a way out of it? I mean, who cares if some people are getting pleasure out of the status aspect of it? If they’re rude to me about their snobbishness or about their anti-snobbishness, I’ll be annoyed at their rudeness; but otherwise, I don’t care. Do what you want, and enjoy it!


True, but if devilsknew could have as much fun over as much time with nothing but Zuma, s/he’d be wealthier and no less happy.

I sometimes roll out this argument with people who look down on my collection of fantasy and science fiction. We spend a few minutes establishing that I enjoy most of their favorite books too, then I end on “So what you’re saying is that I can read more books than you can?” They leave in a huff and no longer bother me. Everyone wins! The actual line of reasoning feels specious to me, but I’ve never been able to work out why.

Indeed, and if I could live on rose perfume and raw pine straw and be just as happy, bully for me! I’m not sure I see the inherent advantage of being wealthier, either.

It all comes down to thsi: some folks enjoy different stuff from other folks. Whether they’re more sophisticated or not is not especially relevant for figuring out how happy they are, or how admirable they are.


True, except that there are ways to develop sophistication. There are whole college degrees devoted to literary sophistication, there are schools that teach the appreciation of wine, and so forth. If the major result of those courses is a reduction in the range of things their students can enjoy, why bother with them? Or, to rephrase in terms of the OP: No, there’s no particular value to sophistication.

Like I said, I don’t actually believe this argument, I only use it as a club from time to time. But I don’t see what’s wrong with it, either.

The OP asked if being sophisticated made a person happier or unhappier. The paradox is that trying to enjoy life more actually makes you enjoy it less (because you pay more of your scarce resources). My way is a way out of that paradox.

Whatever turns your hair blue. Some people get pleasure from one thing, some people get pleasure from another. Some people even get pleasure from engaging with complicated and novel experiences: I actually enjoy the experience of trying something that’s entirely new to me. In other words, a dish gets extra points from me for being unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. When I’m out, I always try to order something I’ve never had for me. If I have two dishes in front me that rate about the same on a flavor-pleasure scale, I’ll probably rate the more unusual of the two slightly higher.

So for me, there’s a conceptual component to food and eating that adds pleasure (or, certainly, can detract from it as well).

Many people (probably most people) don’t bother with such overthinking: they just like what they like and don’t see any return in overanalyzing it.

Bottom line: we both are capable of experiencing enjoyment from food.

In other words, the question asked by the OP can have no objective meaning; “sophistication” means different things to different people. When I’m cooking for others, I try to take all that into account: I try to understand what a person’s “pleasure points” are. If they could care less about concept or the thrill of unfamiliarity, I go for comfort food. If they’re a “foodie” like me, and they get as much pleasure out of discussing food as they do out of eating it, then I go for the peach and onion stir fry or the chocolate duck. There’s no value judgment; there’s just individual approaches to enjoying food.

That’s ridiculous. For some people it’s the journey, not the destination. For others, not so much. That’s like saying that the only way to REALLY enjoy a crossword puzzle is with the answers already filled in. Some people enjoy looking at flowers; some people enjoy gardening. It’s ludicrous to suggest that looking is more enjoyable than digging because it uses fewer resources.

Too late! You’ve got the taste for fine things now…

Once I’ve sampled quality, I’d rather go without than eat/drink inferior fare. Which is maybe why I don’t have $300 meals, but now I have to get my black tea by mail order. Top quality tea is still reasonably affordable.

My whisky threshold is currently 12 years +, but I have tasted 20 year-old, and though it is indeed 8 years worth of better, it’s too expensive for my everyday consumption. A decent 12 year old whisky is affordable, if one doesn’t drink too much.

I think its good to avoid extremes… the opposite of the snob is the guy that refuses to try anything too fancy or expensive and relishes eating only french fries. But most gourmets to me seem like snobs.

I can distinguish between a good and a bad brie… but I surely can’t understand buying cheese 5 times as expensive.

I have enjoyed Atlantic lobster for as long as I can remember. Frozen tails, whole lobster bought live at the grocery, whatever; I liked lobster. Then I ate a whole lobster at a restaurant in Rhode Island, very freshly caught, perfectly prepared. This was a pleasure on a higher level than previous lobster dinners. So now I know what really fine lobster is like, and I appreciate it. The good news is that I still enjoy frozen tails. I think it’s possible to increase one’s sophistication without ruining one’s appreciation for less sophisticated things.

I would question whether the scenario laid out is really a measure of sophistication; or whether it is a measurement of one’s ability to balance personal tastes with personal resources.

If a gourmand is wealthy and enjoys rare steaks and wines and whathaveyou, I believe the reason he does so is primarily because he enjoys the reward of using his time and money in that fashion, not simply because the physical sensation of eating those steaks is so much better. If someone puts great time or effort into a particular pasttime, and their hightened expectations are met, they are likely pleased; but one can also be pleased if expectations are exceeded even if one does not devote more effort into the endevor.

Conversely, wouldn’t the gourmand be more irate if his $500 dinner tasted like a Big Mac and a Coke; than if he had paid only five cents for that meal?

To use a slightly different example, let’s say a poor golfer likes puttering around on his local public golf course. If we sent him to the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Course, he might not enjoy it as much, because he will find the course too difficult, he’ll lose too many balls, etc, even though Pebble Beach costs $450 a round more than his home course. That does not mean that professional golfers, who are more pleased with the challenge of Pebble Beach, are somehow lesser people should they decide to take their holiday in Monterey, California, as opposed to the pithc and putt course next to the movie theater in East Lansing, Michigan.

And, of course, thanks to knowing where and how to shop, a friend who has ten years service at a wine store, and a relative that ran Resturant Business magazine, and another who ran Gourmet means…

I can reproduce that $300 meal for $50.

I may even improve on it.

Swing up to the Cape, bother a friend, get a pair of fresh lobsters from the trap…

Add some garden grown salad, maybe a nice potato from, of all places, Costco (You can get very good meat and vegitables from Costco. For all intents and purposes, it’s a resturant supply store)

And, of course, the same goes for any snobbery. You can spend a lot of money to appear refined… or you can truly know the area, and pull off something better for less than half the price.

Your friend may have just dropped a hundred grand on his 911 4 SC.

But for 35, I can have a nigh-perfect replica of a 550 Spyder that accelerates fast enough to leave it in the dust.

For fifty, I can get a Caterham Super Seven that may not have the looks, but handles like a F1 car.

Maybe I don’t have a copy of The Superman signed by Siegel and Schuster.

But the complete set of Heinlein Juveniles that I picked up from the public library sale at $1 a pop will make anyone’s brain come to a screeching halt, as they try to figure out why their eyes keep being drawn to that corner of the library.

There is, as always, money, and quality. Quality wins.